MIN@SEA: Dozier drills a solo home run to deep left

MINNEAPOLIS -- Second baseman Brian Dozier returned to the top of the Twins' lineup on Thursday in the series finale with the Royals.

After missing two games with a bone bruise in his left knee, which led to back spasms in Seattle, Dozier has been fitted with a knee brace and orthotics to help ease the tension in the joint.

"I didn't even ask today," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I didn't even want to hear the trainers' answers, I just put him back in. I think he's chomping at the bit. The trainers said if he went through his work out [on Wednesday], everything would be good. Well, he looked good yesterday so we'll put him back out there."

Dozier was available, if needed, on Wednesday night, but didn't play. In Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Royals, he doubled in the third inning to extend his hitting streak to eight games, a career high.

While the second baseman has been lauded for this play up the middle all season, he's turned his offense around the last two months. In June and July, Dozier hit .247 with a .340 on base percentage. Over that time he hit 15 doubles and seven home runs with 24 RBIs. Through April and May, he had a .214 average with a .259 OBP and just three doubles and two home runs with 13 RBIs.

Gardenhire said the change occurred after he and hitting coach Tom Brunansky told Dozier to do what got him in the Major Leagues -- just swing. Earlier in the season they were working on Dozier's approach, trying to get him to hit more line drives and use the whole field. After he slumped early, they told him to get out of his head and just swing.

"That's what he's been doing," Gardenhire said. "Since then he's been a better player.

"He's played fantastic defense the whole time, which I'm happy with because he didn't let any part of his offense affect that part. He's able to separate that."

Injured outfielders progressing in rehab

KC@MIN: Willingham takes a round of batting practice

MINNEAPOLIS -- Josh Willingham, who is on the 15-day disabled with a meniscus tear in his left knee, is set to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester this weekend, according to Twins general manager Terry Ryan.

Additionally, outfielders Wilkin Ramirez (concussion) and Darin Mastroianni (left ankle surgery) are set to be moved up in their rehab assignments from the Gulf Coast League. Ramirez will rehab at Double-A New Britain, while Mastroianni will stay in Florida and rehab with Class A Advanced Fort Myers.

"We're trying to spread it out," Ryan said. "Willingham will play left [field] some and DH, but the other two guys we're going to make sure they play left, center and right."

Willingham had arthroscopic surgery on his knee on July 3, but he has been taking batting practice on the field this week and participating in running drills.

Ramirez, out with a concussion suffered on May 25, began his rehab assignment on Saturday in the Gulf Coast League. Mastroianni, who had surgery on his left ankle on May 22, joined Ramirez in the GCL on Monday.

Worth noting

• With catcher Drew Butera being traded to the Dodgers on Wednesday, the Twins moved up Josmil Pinto from Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Rochester. Pinto, 24, hit .308/.411/.482 with 14 homers, 23 doubles and 68 RBIs in 107 games with New Britain.

"I like Pinto a lot," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I liked him a lot in Spring Training. He's still learning all of the parts of catching, like framing and all that. But he's a strong kid with great hands, a decent arm and he's working on his mechanics."

• Twins catcher Ryan Doumit was presented with the Heart and Hustle Award by bench coach Terry Steinbach before Thursday's game against the Royals. He's one of 30 preliminary winners of the award, which honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game and best embody the values, spirit, and tradition of the game.

Doumit was 0-for-2 with two walks.

• The Twins finished July with a 9-17 record to mark their worst month this season. Twins pitchers combined for a respectable 4.20 ERA, but the club hit only .191 with runners in scoring position.

They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on Thursday.